When I was young I was skinny. So so skinny. The summer before my senior year and every day leading up to basketball season, I spent time in the weight room, trying to get strong for the season. Yeah it didn’t happen. Yet there I was just the summer after high school, standing in a deep hole, water spilling over the tops of my boots, bees buzzing incessantly around my head, doing a job that I was neither strong nor motivated enough to do, and wondering how I was going to get through an entire summer like this.
I never worked a full or part time job during high school, rather I would pick up odd jobs where possible and spend the rest of my time playing ball. I’d pull bushes for a relative, help out at my mom’s work, or paint the outside of my parent’s house. So it was a bit surprising to me when my parents said, “you’re going to work a full time job this summer and everything you make is going towards school.” That’s totally not how it works, I thought. You’re my parents, I want to go drink away 4 years with close friends, and you’re supposed to pay for it.
My good friend was pouring basement walls, and it seemed like a decent time. Working on my tan all summer and getting paid $9 an hour? Sounds pretty sweet. For those of you not familiar, a basement form is a large, 3' x 8' steel slab that ties to other slabs, both next to it and 8" away from it, in order to pour concrete into it to form the basement wall.
Once the concrete is cured, you go back and pull all of the forms and stack them into a metal crate to be lifted out of the hole.
7am arrival time, “we didn’t get the other hole cleaned up, hey green nose, fill the crates with the rest of the forms real quick and then jump over here and help us.” It took me all morning and I was ready to go home after the first 2. But I’m not that type of guy, so I shut up and I kept working, even though it was grueling. I’ve been cursed with a svelt, child like frame and that type of work just takes muscles that I’m certain aren’t even in my body. I struggled for 5 hours that morning, pushing and pulling, every movement was a struggle. Then came lunch and I began to really understand what I had gotten myself into. The group broke up into 2 different cohorts and I found myself with the team of guys that just wanted to sit down and eat lunch. The other group broke off to sit in a truck and smoke weed. Except for one guy with us, who pulled out a mirror and a small vial and snorted 2 or 3 lines right out in the middle of a subdivision on a Monday afternoon. Ok. After that he produced a small can of pickled weiner hot dogs and I watched as he pulled each one out, slurped it down, then licked each finger. Over and over again. When he was done, he drank the oil in the can. I vommed.
Lunch was over and one of the burliest, “something ain’t quite right upstairs” guys on the crew announces to the group that he has to take a shit. He walks over to the not yet poured wall, climbs up on it, drops his pants and squeezes off a log right down in between the forms. I can’t help but think about the poor, unsuspecting family that bought that house.
“Hey green nose!” He yelled at me, “grab a stick with a nail on it and fetch that turd!”
My friend said to me “don’t do that.”
“Dude,” I looked at him incredulously, “did you think you had to tell me that?”
I saw “ain’t quite right” again about 3 hours later, standing by his truck, pants down, and he was wiping his butt. Yikes.
What a day. It wasn’t long before the owner of the company realized that I was near worthless on a site like that. I just wasn’t strong enough, and I preferred to poop in toilets. So he put me on a form crew with Gary and Mike. A form crew is a much less demanding part of basement foundations, it’s the small concrete slab that the basement wall actually sits on. Gary and Mike were both open about their problems with alcohol, so after my first day on the job, it wasn’t a surprise when we pulled into a liquor store at the end of the day and Gary got a quick six (as my bro in law would say) and Mike got a 20 oz of Coke and proceeded to dump half of it out and replace it with rum. Mike was trying to quit drinking by taking a pill that would make him vomit horribly, “tonight’s going to be rough once that kicks in.” Despite their inability to manage their alcohol, Gary and Mike were awesome and made my summer that year, they were both funny and kind. Mike was the leader, and he pushed me while at the same time allowing me to find my way. By the end of the summer, I was laying out basements and managing the concrete pour.
This isn’t one of those “get your degree so you never have to work a crappy job” posts because it was never like that for me. I had always been planning on getting my degree, and like I alluded to, I operate better in a thinking capacity. But I’ve never had an appreciation for tough work like I did in those days. That work kicked my ass and every time I walk into my basement I wonder, “could there be a turd in these walls?”